10. An Autodidact
Any chance you have to disconnect yourself from the corporate-industrial machinery of cinema, take it. The system that exists is inherently going to be working against you— the rental houses, the post-production labs, the publicists, the distributors, and all the rest. These institutions largely exist to make money, but as you’ll recall, you aren’t going to be making money. How can you protect yourself from them? Learn how to do absolutely everything, at absolutely every stage. The resources to educate yourself on all technical matters of filmmaking are easily accessible (I recommend falling asleep to audio commentaries). You don’t have to be good at everything, but if you understand each individual element of the process, you’ll be able to understand how to do it cheaper, you’ll be able to ask the right questions, and you’ll prevent yourself from being eaten alive.
11. A Beggar
It is, in fact, almost always much easier to ask for permission than forgiveness, and simply asking for assistance from others will open up resources you can’t imagine. It’s remarkable how open people are once they are asked for something. By simply asking politely, I’ve managed to get free locations, free equipment, free studio space, free music, free labor, free permits, and free legal counsel. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t pay when payment is due. But you’ll be amazed what you can obtain if you just get past your anxiety and pride and ask for what you need. No matter how isolated and individualist you feel at times, never forget that you are working in a collaborative art form, and every bit of help you can get will make the final work stronger.
12. A Partner
If someone asks you to produce a feature, realize that this is a request of similar weight to moving in with a romantic partner. If you don’t feel like you could comfortably share all your emails and sleep in the same bed every night for the next few years, save yourself the heartache. If you don’t love someone, I promise you, you won’t want to make a film with them.
Graham Swon is an independent filmmaker and producer. He has produced films by Matías Piñeiro, Dan Sallitt, and Ricky D’Ambrose, among others. His first feature as writer/director, The World Is Full of Secrets, premiered in 2018. His work has appeared in festivals all over the world, including Berlinale, Locarno, and New York Film Festival. He previously worked in film distribution, managing theatrical sales at The Cinema Guild and Kino Lorber, and currently divides his time between a remote country house in Fairfield, Iowa and a rundown apartment in Brooklyn, New York.